Engineers are a prescient bunch, equipped with a knack for taking the long view. It comes with the territory, yet making headway on the upcoming challenges facing the engineering industry means narrowing the focus and taking action in 2016.
Here are eight of the biggest challenges that lie ahead.
1. The lack of female engineers
Just six percent of the UK’s engineering workforce is female. That’s the lowest proportion in Europe. It’s a problem – and not just in terms of equality. Numerous studies have shown that mixed teams (whether of race, gender or age) are naturally more creative and better equipped to solve problems. Diversity is good for the bottom line.
The lack of female engineers is an issue that’s deep-rooted and stubborn. Female engineer numbers have hardly budged since the early nineties. Figures from UCAS show that only 15 percent of today’s engineering students are female.
What can you do to tackle the problem? Read our article Females in tuition: tackling gender imbalance in UK engineering.
2. The shortage of total engineers
It’s not just female engineers that the UK is lacking. The total number of suitably qualified engineers is way lower than what it needs to be. Tackle the skill shortage and engineering could be worth £27bn per year to the UK by 2022,but that requires a steady supply of wide-eyed, career-ready engineers.
The Royal Academy of Engineering suggests the UK needs more than one million new engineers by 2020 – 250,000 new engineers per year. That will require doubling the current annual total of engineering graduates and new apprentices. Engineering firms must do more to promote engineering as a career option, whether that’s partnering with educational bodies or expanding in-house apprenticeship schemes.
Read more on that topic: 8 tips for budding engineers.
3. Staff churn
Hiring more engineers is one thing. Keeping existing engineers happy is another. Back in March 2015, Gayle Brewer – senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire – warned that engineering firms must do more to manage psycho-social risks within their organisations.
Brewer claims that employees in male-dominated industries were particularly at risk from stress, bullying and boredom and were more likely to suffer in silence – leading to a culture of acceptance. Failure to address psychological well-being could lead to absenteeism and higher than average employee churn; both of which affect productivity and bottom line.
4. Fueling domestic growth in renewable energy
The UK wants to import less energy, meaning it must generate more of its own. The engineering industry is crucial to meeting the challenge. With continued growth in renewable energies and nuclear widely predicted, the demand for skilled engineers will be high.
5. Reducing energy use
The flip-side of the energy coin is the need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and improve energy efficiency – especially following the climate change agreements made at COP21. Currently almost half of the UK’s energy consumption is used in the heating of buildings. Creating more innovative, effective insulation systems, while reducing the energy used in construction and engineering, will play a key role in helping the UK to meet its targets.
5. Improving urban infrastructure
Global population is skyrocketing. UN figures show that there are twice as many people on Earth today as there were in 1970. It took just twelve years – from 1999 to 2011 – for global population to grow from 6 billion to 7 billion. Cities in the UK are under unprecedented pressure to accommodate increasing numbers of people. Engineering is one of the key industries that must help tackle the urban swell.
6. Overcrowding in civil engineering
Competition among civil engineering firms in the UK is fierce. There’s a huge amount of pressure on costing and margins as firms seek to secure contracts, yet this in turn can compromise quality. Civil engineering firms must seek to differentiate themselves based on innovation and process, rather than price.
7. Overseas expansion
Britain’s flair for design and engineering is globally recognised, yet infiltration into foreign markets lags behind the progress made by other EU countries. As per the government’s Construction 2025 report, UK firms should make plans to better pursue trade in global markets.
8. Over to you?
Engineering moves at a relentless pace and it’s easy to get caught up in reacting to the challenges of today. Yet it’s crucial for the future prosperity of the engineering industry that firms remember to be proactive on the challenges of tomorrow.